The best health books

42 authors have picked their favorite books about health and why they recommend each book.

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A Matter of Death and Life

By Irvin D. Yalom, Marilyn Yalom,

Book cover of A Matter of Death and Life

A Matter of Life and Death is a deeply personal double memoir, written in alternating chapters by a long-married couple in their late 80s. Irvin Yalom is a psychiatrist and well-respected novelist; Marilyn Yalom, diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2019, was a professor of literature and women's studies. Emotionally intelligent and unusually articulate, the couple was married for 65 years. Though plodding at times, they document in detail the last year of Marilyn's life, from diagnosis to experimental treatment to hospice to physician-assisted death. It is written as a testament as well as a guide.

Who am I?

I'm a long-time journalist, wife, mother, and grandmother, who was diagnosed with GYN cancer at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in the spring of 2020. My usual subjects are the arts and trauma, but since I’m now one of the more than 600,000 American women with GYN cancer, I decided to write this report about my year of treatment. 

I wrote...

Getting Through It: My Year of Cancer during Covid

By Helen Epstein,

Book cover of Getting Through It: My Year of Cancer during Covid

What is my book about?

Getting Through It: My Year of Cancer during Covid is for the many women who got in touch with me after they heard I was in treatment. They wanted to hear details and how I came out standing. I took notes on everything: surgery, chemo, radiation, recovery. It takes a village to get through cancer: good doctors, a trustworthy partner, a posse of friends, good luck, good health insurance, faith, and personal strength. Vivian Gornick called my book “absorbing and admirable.” Another reviewer: “A How-To that doesn’t read like a How-To.” I wrote it to be useful to everyone in treatment, their caretakers, families, and friends.

I Knew a Woman

By Cortney Davis,

Book cover of I Knew a Woman: Four Women Patients and Their Female Caregiver

This story about four patients cared for by nurse practitioner and acclaimed poet Cortney Davis reminds me a bit of pandemic narratives in that she works in a public clinic with individuals whose financial, emotional, or social situation puts them at risk. Since her patients are all female, their needs are related to gynecology, but the bigger story is Cortney’s ability to connect with them on a humanistic level and share their hopes, concerns, and fears.

Who am I?

Juggling roles as a professor, nurse practitioner, author, mother, and grandmother would seem to limit my reading time but instead, I always have a book in my car, on my phone, or in my hands. I read broadly and enjoy all genres, from fiction to nonfiction, poetry to medical comics, as well as the creative essay columns nursing journals are beginning to embrace. In particular, I gravitate toward resources that help nurses create a positive relational workplace where their best efforts can be even more effective. Whether it’s ending the RN-RA (relational aggression) Rut, using poetry to express feelings about caregiving, or writing creatively about the many aspects of nursing, I am ready to read! And of course, the best part of reading is having a discussion with colleagues or friends about what exactly that book was about…

I wrote...

Toxic Nursing: Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil

By Cheryl Dellasega,

Book cover of Toxic Nursing: Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil

What is my book about?

Nurse-to-nurse incivility and relational aggression can poison the work environment of virtually any organization. My work shares practical solutions from real-life professional conflicts nurses face and offers suggestions for coping with and preventing relational aggression. 

Health at Every Size

By Linda Bacon,

Book cover of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight

Though Linda Bacon didn’t originate the idea of Health at Every Size (HAES), this book popularized it for a mainstream audience. Here Bacon explains what HAES is and isn’t in clear, readable prose, supported by research, evidence, and logic. This book is a perfect starting point for anyone who wants to explore the ways we think about weight and health and how they are (and aren’t) connected.

Who am I?

I’ve been reporting on and writing about food, eating, health, and body image for the last 25 years. So much of what we’re taught about those issues, it turns out, is wrong, inaccurate, and often damaging. I’ve made a point of uncovering the truth in those areas and to write about it in ways that help other people through this difficult terrain. My writing philosophy can be summed up in six words: I write so I’m not alone. And, I would add, so you’re not alone, either.

I wrote...

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It

By Harriet Brown,

Book cover of Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It

What is my book about?

Over the past twenty-five years, our quest for thinness has morphed into a relentless obsession with weight and body image. In our culture, "fat" has become a four-letter word. Or, as Lance Armstrong said to the wife of a former teammate, "I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. But I never called you fat." How did we get to this place where the worst insult you can hurl at someone is "fat"? Where women and girls (and increasingly men and boys) will diet, purge, overeat, undereat, and berate themselves and others, all in the name of being thin?

Body of Truth systematically unpacks what’s been offered about ‘truth’ about weight and health.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

By Lori Gottlieb,

Book cover of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

On the theme of letters, the irresistibly charming author receives and answers them in her Dear Analyst column for The Atlantic. But in addition to showing us the challenges of being a therapist, she bravely includes us in her own therapy. It is hard for me to come up with enough superlatives for this book: wildly funny, insightful, heartwarming, honest, compelling, tender, intensely relatable, and enlightening about what it means to be human. I never wanted it to end. If Kafka had been her patient he might never have written a word.

Who am I?

I taught at Yale for 33 years and I hold advanced degrees from the Sorbonne. I am interested in literature as lessons for life, but I am mostly a passionate letter writer, especially to the great authors who have marked me. They are never really dead. I carry them around with me. I selected the category of Offbeat Memoirs because I have written one. I also have an Italian alter-ego, Donatella de Poitiers, who authors a blog in which she muses about how a lifelong Francophile could have forsaken la Belle France for la dolce vita in the Umbrian countryside, where the food and fresh air are way better than the roads.

I wrote...

Letters to Men of Letters

By Diane Charney,

Book cover of Letters to Men of Letters

What is my book about?

Have you ever wanted to write a letter to an author who has been important to you? I write to the authors I admire, both living and dead, who continue to keep me company. Among these are Kafka, Proust, Nabokov, Camus, Flaubert, Balzac, Leonard Cohen, André Aciman, Christo, and my father. In my 18 letters, I reflect on what these writers have taught me about myself, but also what they can offer the reader. Each letter is part memoir, part intellectual coming-of-age, part reaction to having read, loved, studied, and taught the work of these timeless writers.

As if writing to mostly dead guys weren’t “offbeat” enough, rest assured that there’s plenty of additional evidence for my laying claim to that adjective: “Dear Jean-Paul Sartre, There have been many Jean-Pauls in my life, but you’re the only one in whose bedroom I have slept.”

Come as You Are

By Emily Nagoski,

Book cover of Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life

Emily Nagoski’s overall message is that we’re all built differently—physically and mentally—and we can all carve out a path that works for us.

So knowing how you’re built is useful for making choices in love and sex that work for you. Nagoski looks through a range of lenses at everything from basic anatomy, to all the wonderful, satisfying ways we can love and be loved as sexual beings. There’s no one way to do it, any of it, and thus the good news is there are lots of ways we can enjoy being in our bodies. While no one book could ever capture the diversity and complexity of human sexuality, Come As You Are helped me to better understand the world I live in. I learned more about my body after reading this book than I did from nearly forty years living in it.

Who am I?

I want to make the world a better place. After many failed attempts to achieve this goal, I realized that I didn’t understand the world well enough to make a positive impact. Serendipitously, I started working with Farnam Street, a company that is dedicated to mastering the best of what other people have figured out. One of our most significant projects is The Great Mental Models book series, which consists of four volumes of fundamentals about the world. Learning and using the models to co-write this book series is how I found all the books on this list. I plan to give a set to each of my children to give them a jump start on living effectively. 

I wrote...

The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts

By Rhiannon Beaubien, Shane Parrish,

Book cover of The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts

What is my book about?

The Great Mental Models project is the clearest way to change the way you see the world, avoid problems before they happen, and make better decisions. The series consists of four volumes that cover the core, timeless, ideas that you should have learned in school and applies them to real life. This instant Wall Street Journal bestseller is the breakthrough guide you need to improve your thinking.

The Deepest Well

By Nadine Burke-Harris,

Book cover of The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity

Dr. Harris is a world-changer. In her pediatric practice in an at-risk neighborhood in San Francisco, she saw young patients suffering challenges and illnesses that did not appear to be linked to any physical condition. She dug deeper, and discovered Adverse Childhood Experiences and the deep impact they can have on young lives. It is now her mission to educate doctors, who have not typically been trained in trauma or social and emotional challenges. Her book (and her TEDtalk on the same topic) is fascinating, exacting, and hopeful. Nadine Burke-Harris is now the first-ever Surgeon General of the State of California, and continues to educate parents and professionals about trauma and healing.

Who am I?

I have spent most of my professional career as a therapist and educator, working with children who have experienced trauma and parents who want to do a better job. Trauma affects every aspect of human development and relationships. With support and understanding, trauma and its impacts need not be permanent: change and healing are always possible. The sooner the process begins, the better. The first five years of a child’s life are so important, and most parents are both overwhelmed by a glut of information and missing out on the most important parts of parenting. My hope is to make this information available to everyone who might benefit from it.

I wrote...

Positive Discipline for Preschoolers: For Their Early Years -- Raising Children Who Are Responsible, Respectful, and Resourceful

By Jane Nelsen, Cheryl Erwin, Roslyn Duffy

Book cover of Positive Discipline for Preschoolers: For Their Early Years -- Raising Children Who Are Responsible, Respectful, and Resourceful

What is my book about?

Positive Discipline for Preschoolers offers parents (and early childhood educators) practical, science-based information about how to build a healthy connection with a young child, as well as how to encourage the development of critical social and emotional skills, which are essential to healthy relationships and academic learning later in life.

You will learn to understand your child’s development and temperament, why children behave the way they do, and how to respond in ways that teach character and life skills. And you will learn the value of connection and encouragement in raising a capable, confident young person. Positive Discipline is trauma-informed, has been translated into several languages, and is being taught in more than 70 countries.

Proof of Heaven

By Eben Alexander,

Book cover of Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey Into the Afterlife

Every once in a great while, something remarkable happens and lets us learn about life in a different dimension than what we are used to. This book is penned by an author who is a neurosurgeon and who had a near-death experience upon falling critically ill with meningitis. I love this book because of the author’s ability to use his profound knowledge gained by his own near-death experience to unravel the deepest and most insightful meaning of life and its secrets. The lessons learned from the author’s own experience of the fusion of the spiritual and scientific self is well explained. The book is also unique from a point of view of the author being vulnerable enough to reveal his personal life and how his past played a role in the experiences during the 7-day coma and recovery from it.

Who am I?

Life caught me by surprise when our youngest son was born with a birth defect that launched our family into the world of surgeries, and treatments. After experiencing the management of chronic care for our child firsthand, I realized how important it is to share personal stories and experiences. It enables empathy and a deeper understanding and appreciation of what patients and families go through. Autobiographical accounts of patients and families are still very limited. We need more people to come forward and share their own patient/family experiences in order to promote the betterment of healthcare and healing through relating with others and learning from others’ experiences.

I wrote...

The 5000th Baby: A Parent's Perspective and Journey through the First Year of Life

By Devesh Dahale,

Book cover of The 5000th Baby: A Parent's Perspective and Journey through the First Year of Life

What is my book about?

A story of the first year of life of a baby who was born with a rare birth defect which occurs with a frequency of one in approximately 5000 babies born. A vivid description of the journey of a family that was shocked and overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown, and the perils of the surgeries and treatments that would follow. The story is a detailed account of the medical aspects (surgeries, recoveries, complications, infections, and treatment regimens) while often encountering a “not so friendly” medical system at times as well as dealing with psycho-social aspects of life.

The book provides valuable tips and suggestions so that others may benefit from the author’s experience. Learn about the journey with its trials and tribulations as experienced through the patient / parent’s perspective and appreciate the blessing of a normally functioning healthy human body.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

By Elisabeth Tova Bailey,

Book cover of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Bailey’s book is about a friendship (one-sided perhaps) between a woman and a snail. She describes her growing affection for a woodland snail who is trapped inside with her during a long illness. Although Bailey isn’t offering commentary on pet-keeping, her book suggests a compelling alternative to loving animals—especially creatures we bring in from the wild—by making them into our pets. She shows us how to encounter another creature with curiosity, wonder, and respect.

Who am I?

What does it mean to live a good life in a world shared with a multitude of other beings? I’ve spent my career exploring this question, in both my personal and my professional life. In my work as a bioethicist, I’ve researched and written about how to integrate environmental values into health care and medical research; how to think through (and survive) caring for a companion animal who is nearing the end of life; and why keeping pets is ethically problematic. My most current project—in collaboration with my canine companion Bella—is about ethics in human-dog relationships.  

I wrote...

The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

By Jessica Pierce,

Book cover of The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

What is my book about?

With The Last Walk, Jessica Pierce makes a case that our pets, and the love we bear them, deserve better. Drawing on the moving story of the last year of the life of her own treasured dog, Ody, she presents an in-depth exploration of the practical, medical, and moral issues that trouble pet owners confronted with the decline and death of their companion animals. Pierce combines heart-wrenching personal stories, interviews, and scientific research to consider a wide range of questions about animal aging, end-of-life care, and death. She tackles such questions as whether animals are aware of death, whether they're feeling pain, and if and when euthanasia is appropriate. How should we best honor the lives of our pets, both while they live and after they have left us?  

The Chicken Health Handbook

By Gail Damerow,

Book cover of The Chicken Health Handbook: A Complete Guide to Maximizing Flock Health and Dealing with Disease

My god, a book about keeping chickens and chicken heath that's actually based on science and experience! (Sorry, there are sooooo many terrible blogs and books and posts out there by people who care just cutting and pasting from other crappy blogs and books.) This is the very best source for everything health-wise on chickens. Check here for the real scoop on adding vinegar to chicken water (why and at what dose), what's up with garlic (neutralize the order of chicken poop, and I promise it won’t flavor your eggs), diatomaceous earth, and thousands of other chicken topics and ailments. As a new chicken keeper, I felt a lot safer keeping my backyard chickens healthy, and diagnosing their issues, with this book on my shelf.

Who am I?

I’m an American environmental historian with specialties in food and horticulture. I mostly write on alcohol, wine, garden history, and orchids, but I’ve also kept a small flock of backyard chickens since early 2020. In my preparation for my brood, I read every single chicken history and chicken-keeping book available. Here’s the best of the best.

I contributed to...

The Routledge History of American Foodways

By Michael D. Wise (editor), Jennifer Jensen Wallach (editor),

Book cover of The Routledge History of American Foodways

What is my book about?

The Routledge History of American Foodways provides an important overview of the main themes in the history of American food from the pre-colonial era to the present day. The book incorporates the latest food studies research and explores major advances that have taken place in the past few decades.

The volume has four parts. The first part explores significant developments in US food history in five time periods. The second part examines the key ingredients in the American diet throughout time. The third part focuses on how these ingredients have been transformed into foods identified with the American diet, and how Americans have produced and presented these foods over the last four centuries. The final section explores how food practices are a means of embodying ideas about identity, showing how food choices, preferences, and stereotypes have been used to create and maintain ideas of difference.

Eat Right 4 Your Type

By Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo, Catherine Whitney,

Book cover of Eat Right 4 Your Type: The Individualized Blood Type Diet Solution

This book is not the one-size-fits-all approach of many food books. Naturopath Dr Peter J. D’Adamo has carried on the work of his father to research the effect of various types of lectins, a type of protein found in our body, and found in many foods. One way our unique biology is expressed is in our blood type – O, A, B, or AB. Different types of lectins cause agglutination (the clumping of particles) in different blood types. ‘If you eat a food that contains lectins incompatible with your blood type, those lectins cling or bind themselves to membranes in the digestive tract causing damage such as inflammation.’

Who am I?

I am a naturopathic therapist, teacher, and writer working mainly with plant medicine since 1989. For decades, I’ve been teaching many aspects of natural healing and have written 5 books, published in 6 languages, on various aspects of my work. One of my favourite books is DEEPLY HOLISTIC, a Guide to Intuitive Self-Care, a synthesis of much of the advice I’ve given clients over my 30 years of practice.

I wrote...

Deeply Holistic: A Guide to Intuitive Self-Care--Know Your Body, Live Consciously, and Nurture Your Spirit

By Pip Waller,

Book cover of Deeply Holistic: A Guide to Intuitive Self-Care--Know Your Body, Live Consciously, and Nurture Your Spirit

What is my book about?

Natural medicine outcomes depend partly on helping people create a lifestyle which acts as the foundation for good health. Deeply Holistic is a smorgasbord of suggestions that you can help yourself to, to help yourself move more towards your optimum possible level of health, presented in the format of relevance to the various body systems.

Good eating is an essential foundational building block to feeling well. But what to eat, in the modern climate of often conflicting and contradictory advice? As I discuss in Deeply Holistic, there is no real one size fits all approach to diet, hence the emphasis on ‘intuitive’ self-care – increasing your ability to tune in and listen to what your body is asking for.k

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